BE STRONG – Hazak, hazak – Sedra Pikudey – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
In addition to its other contents, this week’s Torah reading concludes the Book of Exodus. The final verses describe the sacred cloud that hung over the Tabernacle in their camp in the desert, and lifted only when they were to move on. That cloud, signifying the Divine presence in their midst, effectively guided them on their 40-year journey to the Promised Land, and we leave this book with the vision of that cloud.
As we do when we finish every book of the Torah, we sing a special farewell. The Torah reader chants the closing words to a dramatic melody, and the congregation echoes his melody with the words Hazak hazak v’nis-kha-zek – “Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen one another!” This week the closing words describe the cloud that sanctified their Tabernacle by day and the fire that lit it by night, “in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.” We stand to hear those words when they are read in the synagogue, and remain standing to chant the triumphal Hazak, hazak!
Final passages offer us a sequence of basic importance in our history.
Genesis, the first book, ends with the death of Joseph and recounts how his body was placed in a coffin in Egypt. So concludes the epic of the sons of Jacob and the slavery and redemption of their descendants in Egypt. Hazak, hazak!
Leviticus, the book that follows this week’s, sums up the Mitzvos that our ancestors were taught at Mount Sinai. Hazak, hazak!
Numbers concludes the Mitzvos Israel received “by the Jordan at Jericho.” Learning our sacred responsibilities was not a one-time experience. Hazak, hazak!
And Deuteronomy closes the Torah with an epitaph for Moses, the unequaled leader, prophet and sage. Even on such a joyful holiday as Simchas Torah we will close the reading remembering “the mighty hand and the great awe that Moses wrought in the sight of all Israel.”
And just as we will do this week, once again we will stand and sing out those words of courage: Hazak hazak v’nis-kha-zek – “Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen one another!”
Our Torah’s standing ovation reminds us of the strength it gave us through all the hard and bitter centuries. May we continue to draw strength from it in the centuries to come. This week and every week, whether we sing it or just feel it — Hazak, hazak!